With election fever in full swing this week, few might have paid attention to the revealing testimony of Transnet board chair Popo Molefe at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.


Reported in TimesLIVE, Molefe gives an eye-opening account of the precise mechanisms by which competent people in Transnet were taken out of key decision-making positions. They would then be replaced with “cronies” who had no idea of how to do the actual job but were more than willing to compromise the procurement processes to the benefit of corrupt operators inside and outside the company.

So, for example, an engineer with two decades of experience in Transnet operations came to be replaced by a teacher.


“This election is about competence,” proclaimed the leader of the official opposition in the hours headed into the election.

There is no question that competence is a critical factor if the new president is to stand any chance of turning around the fortunes of the public sector, from state-owned companies to government departments such as education and health. But this current government has scant regard for competence, given the governing party’s cadre-deployment policy. No doubt there are competent cadres serving in public life, but the overwhelming majority are in their positions as a consequence of politics. A cadre must be rewarded; a faction must be placated; a promise must be kept; an ethnic slight must be avoided; a perception must be rectified; a balance must be maintained. Political calculations are inevitable in making political appointments such as deciding on cabinet members or chairs of parliamentary committees. However, when political thinking is extended to critical jobs where technical skills matter — such as a Transnet engineer or the manager of a large hospital or the senior curriculum ...

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